Both my studies and work are based on mental health. I work in mental health because I love the potential of people, I love how people can realise their full abilities to get out of some of the most difficult situations life can throw at them, as much as I enjoy seeing people realise their potential to reach new heights.
However, there is plenty about our understanding of mental health, both individually and at a governmental level, that frustrates me and skews our perception about what mental health is all about.
One of the biggest issues I have is we focus on reacting to challenges with our mental health rather than consistently developing positive mental health.
As I said, this is not just an individual level, it happens at governmental reform level too.
It’s important that we talk about ways to help when we or someone we know has a mental illness.
At least one in four of us will at some point develop a mental illness, and pretty much all of us will experience challenges with our mental health at some point in our lives.
It’s also just as important to know how to develop positive mental health, yet we do this much less often.
You can actually check out a video I did on this very topic on the GetPsyched YouTube channel here.
Mental Illness & Mental Health
Another thing that we should discuss regarding this is the difference between good and bad mental health, or rather between mental illness and mental health.
Not all of us will be diagnosed with a mental illness at some point in our lives, however, we will all challenges and issues with our mental health at some point.
Look at it this way. A sports athlete will throughout their careers have challenges with their physical health and abilities that need aaddressing but not all will have a debilitating injury that sidelines them for months.
Not everyone likes the physical health metaphor to illustrate mental health but I think in this instance it’s appropriate and makes sense.
Good Mental Health
So, what does it really mean to have good mental health?
Well, it basically means that we have overall psychological and mental well-being.
It is more than just not having issues with your mental health or not having a mental illness.
Rather than an absence of mental illness, positive mental health is about having positive characteristics and attributes.
Another key point here is that having positive mental health doesn’t mean never experiencing challenges or having to go through bad times.
Rather, it means how you view the challenges and what characteristics you can hold onto.
How do we build positive mental health?
Face to face social interaction:
The first thing I would say here is that we need to develop a consistent level of face to face social interaction.
Maintaining a social circle is vital!
What’s more is that studies have shown that meeting face to face with loved ones and friends can have positive implications for our mental health.
Make sure to make time during your week to catch up with family members and friends.
Phone calls and texts will only get you so far. What’s key about this tip is the face to face element
There are a number of different ways that you can increase your face to face social interaction with new and/or existing friendship circles that will have positive implications in your mental health.
Contact a friend and go catch up for a drink.
Join a local networking group or sports team or walking club to gain more social face to face interaction.
Whatever you do, find new ways to increase the time to spend with other people you like and that care about you!
Be active as much as you can:
Now what I don’t mean is that you need to be working out 6 days a week in order to obtain positive mental health.
Walk instead of driving for example (short distances only of course).
Get outside in the air and do some physical activity.
Simple basic exercise can go a long way, when done on a regular basis, to help with developing positive mental health.
Manage your stress levels:
Stress, for me, is one of the main contributes for people that have difficulties with their mental health.
Left unattended, it can get worse and develop into more complex issues.
So, learning how to manage your stress, which we will all feel at numerous points, is vital to develop a sense of positive mental health.
The two points we covered previous will help with reducing stress, but there is more you can do too.
One of the keys here is to value your own sensory input when it comes to stress.
Perhaps you enjoy listening to calm music.
Squeezing a stress ball.
Or making a cup of coffee.
Managing stress is subjective, so know your own processing and create a process of recognising and then tackling stress.
Value your leisure time:
Life is packed, and at times it can be hard to know when or how to stop.
A tip that I have found beneficial here is plan leisure time. Plan it as part of your week and stick to it.
Also, by leisure time, I mean doing something you enjoy just because you enjoy it.
Listen to music, go to the gym, read a book, paint something. Again, its subjective, but make sure to make it part of your routine to manage stress.
Watch your nutrition:
I’m a great believer in developing positivity, creating new habits, and staying consistent having a lot to do with diet and what we eat.
Now, this is going to be a tough step to fully commit to, so my advice here is to start small. Simply start off with a smart change of one meal.
Perhaps you have an unhealthy breakfast or eat junk food mid-way through the day. Try and change this to something more nutritious.
Diets that are low in caffeine, alcohol, sugar and trans-fat have shown to have positive implications for someone’s mental health.
Finding a purpose:
My final point is another subjective on but one I think holds real value.
Having a purpose can have profound impacts on mental health.
What’s more is that research has shown that having a purpose impacts other physiological things too.
It improves brain neuro-connections.
Improves our immune system.
And relieves stress.
So how can you do this then?
Be creative – Things that at first might seem strange can give us purpose when we are creative in doing them.
Relationships – Much like our first point, being in relationships with loved ones and spending time with them can give us a real sense of purpose.
Volunteering – this can be time-consuming but can be really great for finding a purpose in life.
Volunteer with children with additional support needs or at a nursing home.
Volunteer to do something where you are valued and needed.
Let’s start to change our understanding of what mental health is all about. Let’s find ways of developing our positive mental health. I really feel that by following these steps we can experience hugely powerful and positive implications for our own mental wellbeing!